Crimp climbing is one of the many terms that can confuse those who are new to the sport of climbing. After all, a crimp actually describes two different things, a hold, and a grip style. Our goal with this article is to clear that up!
Before you’re done reading you’ll know exactly what crimp climbing is, the different types of crimp and how to practice and train to add this to your climbing technique repertoire!
What is Crimp Climbing?
Crimp climbing is a term used for a style of climbing where your fingertips are the only part of your hand in contact with the rock or climbing wall. The holds that demand this type of climbing grip are called crimp holds.
As a beginner, you may not encounter too many crimp holds. Due to the tension and strength that is required from your fingers and hands, “crimping” as it’s often referred to, is more of an advanced skill.
Due to its physical demands, even advanced climbers will only crimp when they need to. Crimping is hard on your hands even as an experienced climber and overuse are one of the quickest ways to develop chronic injury issues.
Types of Crimps
While most people won’t talk about it or refer to crimps more specifically, there are three different styles of crimp grips that vary depending on the use of your thumb, the angle of your fingers, the difficulty, and the strain it puts on your forearms and hands.
The safest, yet most challenging form of the crimp grip is called the open crimp, or the drag grip. In the open crimp, the tension is only in your fingertips and first knuckles, with the rest of your finger laying in natural, somewhat relaxed, positions. The thumb is off to the side and not in use.
Because a good portion of the hand is relaxed in this grip it puts quite a bit less strain on your fingers and wrists, but the lack of that extra tension also means it’s harder to hold.
The half crimp shares the lack of the thumb with the open crimp. The difference between these two is that now both knuckles are engaged and the hand forms an arch over the hold. This allows for more force to be applied to the fingertips and thus is a little stronger of a grip than the drag grip, but it also means there is more tension in the hands and wrists.
This is the most common crimp grip, it’s kind of the best of both worlds. It’s not as hard on your hands as the full crimp but it’s more secure than the open crimp.
The third and final type of crimp is the full crimp, and this is what I’ll normally teach to beginners who are learning the grip. Your fingers form the same shape as they do when applying a half crimp, but your thumb wraps around to grasp the top of the hold or even press down on your index finger.
While this grip is the strongest crimp, that is also its downfall. Climbers can “muscle” holds rather than shift their weight or balance. Not only does this tend to lead to injuries if done over a long period of time but it also keeps them from progressing in the sport.
Learning to balance and manage your weight on your feet is a vital part of a few styles of climbing, especially slab climbing, and dependence on the full crimp can lessen your progress on it!
Improving Your Crimp Climbing
Crimp Climbing is a challenging style that most beginners don’t experiment with much. To progress to more challenging climbs you’ll need to learn it though. When starting to climb routes there are some things to make the skill easier to learn
Shift Your Weight Away from the Grip
The easiest way to improve the strength of a crimp grip is to move your weight away from it. This shift helps to build more friction on the fingertips and allows you to rely on it more.
Use Your Feet
Many situations where you will need a lot of crimps are also climbed where your foot positioning is vital. Slab climbing is a perfect example of this. On slabs, you’ll normally have tiny little crimps and your foot placement will be the difference between completing the route or falling and having to start over.
In situations like this, your crimps can be more for balance than strength or stability. Use your feet to get across the slab and then pull up on the actual holds with your hands for an easier time!
Training Aids for Crimps
Moreso than many other forms of grips, crimps can cause injury and stress the tendons of the wrists, hands, and fingers. When a climber starts wanting to progress from big ole jug holds to crimp climbing, there are some hand strengthening routines I like to recommend for them.
With all of these aids, start with short stints and build time under tension over a few months. 10 minutes 3 days a week is more than enough for beginners in most situations!
Hangboarding is a finger and hand-specific form of training that many climbers like to use to supplement their actual climbing. This is a challenging form of training that I generally don’t recommend for climbers in their first few months.
We’ve written a full article on a fingerboard routine, but the basics are that you want to start just two days a week and give your hands several days of rest in between. Hangboarding is a great way of training open and half crimps.
5- Second Holds
When you are climbing a route and you come across a crimp, use this as an opportunity to practice and strengthen the grip. Anytime you’re holding a crimp force yourself to count to five before you start the next move on the route.
This is a great way to build some time under tension while actually climbing. As you start to tire it will be extremely important to get your feet involved as well too. This helps you practice your balance and weight shifting that we talked about to improve your crimp climbing.
5-second holds can be used for any climbing training, but they are especially beneficial for crimps!
Grip trainers or grip rings are implements that usually use a spring attached to two handles. The spring makes it hard to squeeze the handles, giving you resistance and helping you build grip strength.
I have actually had one of these on my desks for a long time. When I get stressed or stuck on a problem I like to grab one of these tools and practice my grip while I’m thinking! While these are great tools for building hand strength they aren’t specific to crimping but will help with overall hand strength and stamina.
For all other styles of grips, they are just too simple to work effectively with. For climbers who have already mastered these though, they are a great tool!
Crimp Climbing Summary
While crimp climbing is a very common and a great grip to have in your toolkit, it’s important to remember that every style of rock climbing has different strengths and weaknesses, and they are all important parts of a well-rounded climber’s skill set.
While it’s true that learning how to climb using half and full open-hand grips will give you the biggest boost in difficulty and variety in your climbs, you shouldn’t neglect to improve your other skills either!
Our writer/editor and youngest team member, Nick is in school for journalism with a minor in climbing. Just kidding. There is no minor for climbing. We wish though!
Nick has the benefit of being fairly new to the world of climbing, and thus is able to look at our content and make sure we explain things in a way both experts and people who have never put foot on a wall will understand!